USING WEB 2.0 TOOLS FOR ESP VOCABULARY DRILL
Stephen Roney, John Allan
College of the North Atlantic Qatar (Qatar); Niagara College (Canada)
Doha, Qatar; St. Catherines, Canada
Inevitably, learning a language involves a great deal of memorization. Many find this difficult and
painful; nor does such drill really require a teacher to be present. Computers, on the other hand,
endless in their patience, are ideal for this. At College of the North Atlantic—Qatar, we are using a
variety of tools freely available on the WWW to cut through the boredom factor, and to allow students
to accomplish self-paced vocabulary drill on their own time.
This talk demonstrates our system and the tools we use, and attempts to evaluate the results we have
achieved. Included are the following Web 2.0 packages: Quia Web, Classtools, Content Generator,
Quizlet, Spelling City, Hot Potatoes, WidgetBox, Google Gadgets, Impress, ImTranslator, ChronMe,
Abrakadoodle, QuickFlashGames, and, to return continuous feedback, SurveyGizmo. All are available
free on or from the Internet, and so can be set up anywhere at any school at no cost.
Keywords - ESL, CALL, Web 2.0, vocabulary, ESP, CLIL, Language Learning Innovations, e-
Learning Projects and Experiences, Web Classroom Applications.
1 THE RATIONALE
No matter how you parse it, the largest part of learning a new language is hard, slogging,
memorization. Though memorization used to be the backbone of the curriculum, we don't like
memorization these days, and we seek to avoid it. We call it “drill and kill.” The classic schemes for
lesson plans rarely even allow for it: they envision some new datum or procedure being introduced in
every lesson, and being tested at the end. Memorization drill does not fit that model.
Language training may have suffered as a result. Our own students here at College of the North
Altantic-Qatar (CNAQ) commonly wonder why they seem to study the same language points, even the
same vocabulary, semester after semester, year after year. To which the honest answer is, because
they apparently do not know it yet. But then, we remember wondering the same thing about our
educations in French as a Second Language in Canadian schools—every year it was the passé
It may be that this is due to our resistance to working more on memorization: we must repeat the
same lessons year after year because we did not repeat them sufficiently hour after hour, day after
day the first time around.
Drill, of course, we always say, is boring for students. But I think we also resist drill in class because it
is boring for us as teachers. If each student must repeat the same spoken exercise ten times to get it
right, we as teachers of a class of, say twenty, most accordingly listen to it 200 times. Each semester.
How many of us put in twenty years of costly education to end up doing that?
But is it really so boring for students as well? Is it really so painful? Perhaps not; perhaps instead we
are dealing here with a lost art. Michael Knox Beran claims things were different as recently as a
century ago: “A visitor to a first-grade classroom in New York in 1912,” he writes, “remarked on how
quickly pupils absorbed the verses their teacher had sung to them. 'At the end of twenty-five or thirty
minutes,' the visitor said, 'a large majority of the class seemed to know most of the words—a
remarkable fact, since there were more than fifty children present and this was only the second week
of school.' “ 
So perhaps it is the teacher boredom factor we most must overcome. If there ever was an educational
procedure that could properly be automated, then, it is this matter of drill. It is the heavy lifting of the
teaching field. Drill, ye tarriers, drill!
Proceedings of EDULEARN09 Conference. ISBN:978-84-612-9802-0
6th-8th July 2009, Barcelona, Spain. 002775
Happily, the computer offers a handy solution; and Web 2.0 makes it virtually free. Computers can
drill forever without becoming bored. They can tailor their questions to the developing comprehension
of each individual student, reducing the load for him or her. And, perhaps most importantly, they are
able to make the task fun—yes, fun.
In the current trend to ESP (English for Specific Purposes), CLIL (Content and Language Integrated
Learning) and corpus linguistics, we are often working, specifically, with target word lists: most
famously Ogden's Basic English list, Coxhead's Academic Word List, and West's General Service List.
At CNAQ, we have run a selection of such words through a series of Web 2.0 tools in order to create a
drill kit accessible to students in our classes and in our Learning Commons at all times. In the present
paper, we outline the tools and the procedure step-by-step. Note that, while our own focus is
vocabulary, a very similar procedure could also be used for points of grammar, or in any other
subjects in which memorization is important.
Computer-assisted language learning is over thirty years old; but Web 2.0 adds an important new level
of interactivity and accessibility. With it, we are able to offer a variety of activites so that the learner
always feels that they are working on a fresh task. However, we will not really know if these
educational experiences are successful until a few terms of trial, feedback and alteration are
completed. We are, as Higgins states, “transferring the act of teaching and learning to a new medium.”
“When a predicted learning event does not take place,” he continues, “we are forced to conclude
either that the machine is unsuitable, or that our model of how to use it was based on a
misconception” . All this remains to be seen—all we can offer here is theory, and the outlines of our
experiment as we have set it up.
2 THE PROCEDURE
First, of course, we assemble a list of words to be studied. If your target is the Academic Word List, or
some other established list, this is straightforward. If you need to create your own list on the fly based
on the needs of a specific field or textbook, here is a good Web 2.0 approach: go to Amazon
(www.amazon.com, of course) and select a textbook in your field; or the textbook you actually use.
With luck, it will offer Amazon's new concordance feature. Scroll down the display page for that book,
to the section “Inside this Book,” and look for “concordance.” This will produce an automatic list of the
100 most-frequently-used words in that book—and examples of their use in context. Amazon's
“statistically improbable phrases” list, in the same section of their web page, is also useful, for
targeting terminology special to the field.
If you cannot find a good text at Amazon offering this feature, another tactic for compiling a custom list
quickly is to take a passage from a relevant textbook and run it through the Vocab Grabber:
http://www.visualthesaurus.com/vocabgrabber/. This will generate a list of the most common words in
the passage, classified by subject area.
Here is our sample target list, of words for business students:
2.1 Spelling City
First stop is the web site Spelling City: http://www.spellingcity.com/index.php, to work on pronunciation
and spelling (free, requires registration). It is designed for native speakers, but is entirely suitable for
our purposes. Signing in to our account, we enter our word list as a batch file, just as shown above.
This automatically generates 12 different exercises:
• A “Teach Me” module, which pronounces the word and then spells it out letter by letter for the
• A “Spelling Test,” in which the word is sounded out, both alone and in a sentence, and the
student types in the correct spelling. This helps familiarize students with the word's usage in
...and ten word games:
• “Match It”: the word must be matched to the correct sentence.
• “Alphabetize”: the words must be put in alphabetical order. This too can be a valuable ESL
skill, for students like ours at College of the North Atlantic-Qatar, whose native language is
written in a different script.
• “Hangmouse”: a version of Hangman. The classic way to practice spelling without tears.
Unfortunately, Spelling City's version is without clues to the word.
• “Unscramble”: a scrambled-letters game, with two distractors added each time.
• “Audio Word Match”: a “Concentration” or “Pelmanism” game, in which the words are
pronounced as they are turned over. This will help with sight reading as well as pronunciation
• “Which Word?”: a multiple choice quiz to match words to the correct sentence.
• “Complete the Word”: a low-level spelling activity in which students insert the one letter
missing from one of the target words. The program pronounces each letter. Good for teaching
phonemes as well as the specific words on our list.
• “Sentence Unscramble”: helping again with usage.
• And, of course, the ever-popular “Crossword.” The clues are, once again, sentences using the
word in context.
Spelling City offers satisfying sound effects, that usually produce some enjoyment in a class. Most of
these exercises can also be printed off; the site promises they all will be printable eventually.
We have not yet dealt with the matter of learning the formal definitions of our words. We now therefore
proceed to Quizlet: http://quizlet.com/ (free, requires registration). Again, it allows batch entry; and, by
entering our word list once again just as we have it, we can make use of a valuable Quizlet feature: it
can automatically give us word definitions, offering suggestions from a dictionary and from other
users. The database from previous users is large enough to give a vast range of choices, including
definitions specific to a particular field. For the word “dominate,” for example, Quizlet offers 434
This gives us the following list, terms and definitions:
assets The resources owned by a business.
acquisition The purchase of additional resources by a business enterprise.
argue To put forth reasons for or against; debate.
adapt Make fit for, or change to suit a new purpose.
bureaucracy Complex systems with many departments, many rules, and many people in
the chain of command.
collect Call for and obtain payment.
competition A contest between businesses or individuals to sell a product or service.
consumers People who use goods or services for their personal benefit
corporation A business that is publically traded.
couple Two items of the same kind.
decade A period of 10 years.
dominate Control; rule; enjoy a commanding position.
The touch of a button then gives us six new activities:
• “Familiarize”: flash cards, matching words with definitions.
• “Learn”: the student must type in the word to match the definition, with a running grade.
• “Test”: generates an interactive test on the vocabulary with a customizable mix of matching,
multiple choice, short answer, and true-false questions. This can be printed off, if preferred,
and can be randomized each time, so that no two students share the same test. This has
obvious benefits for preventing cheating.
• “Scatter”: an activity in which students drag words onto the corresponding definitions. As they
do so, both disappear, gradually clearing the screen.
• “Space Race”: a challenging activity in which students must type in the correct word before the
definition disappears from the screen.
• “Voice Race”: uses voice recognition technology for pronunciation practice. Just like “Space
Race,” but to win students must pronounce the defined word into their microphones before the
• “Voice Scatter”: like scatter, but both words and definitions must be properly pronounced.
Quizlet offers some additional features: it tracks “most missed words,” for example. Both the list of
terms and the flash cards are printable. You can link exercises directly to a class or teacher web site
on either Facebook or MySpace. You can create class groups and assign lists directly through Quizlet;
students then also have the option to leave messages discussing the terms among themselves. Sets
can also be exported directly to Moodle as a Moodle quiz. Like any proper Web 2.0 application,
Quizlet also offers you a large library of flashcard sets already created by other users, sorted by
category. What you need may already be there.
2.3 Scholastic Word Wizard
We have now covered listening, speaking, spelling, comprehension, and usage in context of our target
words, at least to some degree. There is one concern, here, however. If our students learn the
definitions of these words in only one phrasing, they will not truly fully comprehend the words. They
will miss the more subtle colorations of meaning. Native speakers, of course, learn these colourations
by repeatedly encountering the words in different contexts; but our students may not have that luxury.
It is our job, if we can, to accelerate the process for them. In order to meet this concern, it is probably
worthwhile to have at least one more set of similar exercises, but using somewhat different definitions.
Our next stop, therefore, is Scholastic's Word Wizard dictionary's “Minidictionary” feature
(http://wordwizard.scholastic.com/minidictionary/). Like Spelling City, it is designed for native
speakers, but if your target word list is not too arcane, it can save you a bit of work. (Free, does not
We enter our batch file, the bare word list, once again. We can adjust our “grade level” here
depending on the fluency of our students, as we might use the FOG index or the Flesch-Kincaid
scale—anything from 1 to 12. Our current target is about grade 9. The site then automatically
generates our word definitions for us, including, if desired, the part of speech. When a word has more
than one definition, we are allowed to select the definition we prefer.
For our present purposes, we will omit the part of speech.
This produces the following new list:
Table 1. Raw word list as generated by Scholastic's Minidictionary.
acquisition something acquired.
argue to have a battle with words; quarrel; contend.
assets property that can be exchanged for cash.
bureaucracy an organized group of hired officials, esp. governmental.
collect to obtain payment (usu. fol. by on).
competition the striving of business firms against one another to secure trade.
consumers those who purchase goods or services.
an association of persons recognized by law and authorized to carry out
certain functions with powers independent of the individual members.
couple two of the same kind of thing or of related things considered together.
decade a unit of time equal to ten years.
dominate to rise above; tower over.
We now have accurate definitions for each word. If some are unsuitable, we can of course modify
them in any word processor; a little cleanup may be needed. Our text is also generated in table format;
we must strip it out to plain text. But this is a simple matter in any word processor. This list is
printable—so that the learners can take it home for study. If we want yet another set of definitions, we
can batch-enter our word list once again, and select definitions for a lower grade level.
Word Wizard also offers its own built-in quiz, http://wordwizard.scholastic.com/quizmaker/.
2.4 Study Stack
We proceed, with our stripped and cleaned list, to Study Stack (http://www.studystack.com/), a site
similar to Quizlet. At present, it is clearly inferior, indeed unsatisfactory. Some of its eleven activities
do not seem to work, and some quiz randomly on answers instead of questions. Nevertheless, it is
free, and quite easy to add to our box of tools. And it may be improved in future.
Although it allows batch entry, it does not recognize the tab character as a delimiter, as we have been
using; it needs a symbol instead.
This is not a problem: we proceed to SortMyList (http://sortmylist.com/) (free, no registration). Here,
we can automatically change our separator character from a tab to, say, “#”.
Submitting the list to StudyStack, we now have eleven more activities. Since not all of them are
suitable, a good option, which Study Stack allows, is to embed only those modules we want directly
into our own web page.
2.6 Flashcard Machine
One thing is, we feel, still missing. Many find it helps memorization quite a bit to be able to also
associate a word or concept with a visual image. Nothing we have so far does that. Therefore, we
proceed to the Flashcard Machine (http://www.flashcardmachine.com/). (Free, requires registraton).
We can batch-enter our word list again, using tabs as delimiters. But unlike Quizlet or StudyStack,
Flashcard Machine allows us to upload images for our cards—or audio files.
Where to get the visuals? We took advantage of Microsoft Office's vast online clip art library
(http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/clipart/FX101321031033.aspx). (Free, no registration). Another good
source is Creative Commons Search (http://search.creativecommons.org/), which lets you search for
images that are copyright-free or licensed for free use.
Typical of a Web 2.0 application, the Flashcard Machine also offers a database of flashcard sets
created by other users, in which you may find some pre-created sets useful for your purposes.
Another option for visuals is to create a slide show in PowerPoint, free if, like so many, you already
own it, or using Zoho, Google Docs, or Open Office. We prefer this option ourselves, because it
makes the visuals larger, and therefore gives them greater impact; which is part of the value of
visuals. The slide show can be linked in directly to your web page, or can be uploaded to a service like
SlideShare (http://www.slideshare.net/), and linked to there.
2.7 Hot Potatoes
We now have a broad set of vocabulary practice tools, including listening practice, pronunciation
practice, varied definitions, and images as a mnemonic device. But we are still limited in one area: the
use of the words in context. While Spelling City offers some of this, its usage database is generic. For
ESP, we will usually need to see the words as applied in our given field.
Hot Potatoes (http://hotpot.uvic.ca/) (free, requires registraton, requires download), still seems to be
the best tool available for this, though it is too hoar with age to be considered Web 2.0. We will use its
jCloze application. Hot Potatoes also offers jCross, for making crosswords, jMatch, for matching
exercises, jQuiz for multiple choice, jMix, for scrambled sentences, and “The Masher” for linking them
For sentences, there are several good concordancers on the Web. Most notably, the British National
Corpus (http://www.natcorp.ox.ac.uk/index.xml) will search a full cross section of documents in British
English totalling 100,000,000 words, and return full sentences. For ESP, it also makes sense to use
the Hong Kong Polytechnical University's Virtual Language Centre: http://vlc.polyu.edu.hk/, which
allows you to select from more limited corpora in specific fields.
From these sources, we copy and paste into jCloze, and select our target words as the gaps to be
Fig. 1: A jCloze exercise.
2.8 Other approaches to word definitions
One of the oldest traditions of pedagogy—dating back to ancient Greece—is the idea that, in teaching
language, the usage examples shown to students should be from the very best writing. These are
easier to memorize, they give an ideal pattern for usage, and they add interest, and educational value,
to the lesson. Theon writes, in his Progymnasmata (1st century AD), that “if we receive very fine
imprints on our soul from fine exempla, we shall also imitate them” .
In order to achieve this, we go to jCloze again, but use a different source to generate a different set of
sentences: a set derived from famous proverbs and quotations. Quote Mountain is one good resource:
Here are the sample sentences Quote Mountain offered, with the target terms italicized:
All wars are undertaken for the acquisition of wealth – Socrates
For organizations and employees alike, the only real security is the ability to grow, change and
You may easily play a joke on a man who likes to argue -- agree with him.
Every company's greatest assets are its customers, because without customers there is no
Bureaucracy is not an obstacle to democracy but an inevitable complement to it.
If someone were to pay you $.10 for every kind word you ever spoke and collect $.05 for every
unkind word, would you be rich or poor?
Pride is an admission of weakness; it secretly fears all competition and dreads all rivals.
Consumers are statistics. Customers are people.
You look at any giant corporation, and I mean the biggies, and they all started with a guy with
an idea, doing it well.
If you think nobody cares if you're alive, try missing a couple of car payments.
Something which we think is impossible now is not impossible in another decade.
We come to reason, not to dominate. We do not seek to have our way, but to find a common
By good luck, some of the quotations or proverbs even refer specifically to business, our target
Something else we can do to help the memorization task, is to also offer students verbal as well as
visual images: that is, definitions of the terms that are expressly metaphoric or idiomatic, that “paint a
picture.” These are useful mnemonics, add some sense of connotation as well as denotation, and are,
for most students, intrinsically motivational. Language learners enjoy idioms, and enjoy learning to use
them correctly. It is very cool.
And so we go with our terms to any online thesaurus. The largest currently, so far as we know, is at
Thesaurus.com: (http://thesaurus.reference.com/). Entering our terms one by one, we choose the
synonym which seems most colourful and most seems to illustrate the meaning of the word:
argue, cross swords
adapt, roll with the punches
bureaucracy, red tape
collect, pass the hat
competition, a horse race
consumers, end users
dominate, call the shots
Some, certainly, work better than others. But we have pulled up some useful and familiar idioms, that
shed a new, graphic light on the significance of the terms.
Variety in presentation is also important, if only for maintaining interest. So, instead of making yet
more exercises with the same tools, we proceed to SpellMaster (http://www.spellmaster.com/). Here,
we can download two packs of educational game templates (free, no registration). Both accept batch
entry, as a simple text file. By inserting our word list with synonyms as above into the first pack,
SpellMaster proper, we generate five more drill activities:
• “JigWords”: students drag and drop our idiom definitions to words from the word list.
• “MatchWords”: a concentration/Pelmanism game.
• “WordSearch”: a particularly strong example of the genre, with three levels of difficulty.
• “WordWeb”: an interesting spelling exercise. The letters are all given, but the student must
point to them in sequence.
• “SpeedWord”: more good spelling practice, at a higher level. Students must spell the word
correctly, from the synonym or idiom, before time runs out, and can adjust the time limit to
make the exercise more challenging.
The second pack creates more exercises for pronunciation practice, although it requires just a little
more work. We do not need our definitions here: we need only our original word list, with each item
repeated, then repeated again with the file extension “.mp3”. The result (we did it by hand, using the
copy and paste function from our word processor):
assets, assets, assets.mp3
acquisition, acquisition, acquisition.mp3
argue, argue, argue.mp3
… and so forth.
Now we record the sound files to go with it, using Audacity, a free download
(http://audacity.sourceforge.net/). We record our voice saying the words, one by one, save them with
the indicated file names, and we now have three more activities to help students with their spelling,
pronunciation, and comprehension of the target vocabulary:
• “JigSound”: they match the spoken to the written form.
• “ListenMatch”: concentration/Pelmanism, matching the sound to the written form.
• “Listen&Spell”: students spell out the word after hearing the spoken form, with a time limit.
We can do still more to address the very important boredom factor: no exercise is valuable if the
students will not do it. Indeed, a learning activity is generally more valuable in direct proportion to how
well it can attract and hold student attention and enthusiasm. As Plato put it: “Do not train students to
learning by force and harshness, but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be
better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.”
This being so, it is worth noting that the repetition usually necessary to fix something in memory is
actually an integral part of many of the activities most of us most enjoy: games, music, singing,
Fortunately, there are a variety of tools on the web, some free, for creating interactive vocabulary
games to exploit this valuable truth.
Quia (http://www.quia.com/web) is not free. You can get a free 30-day trial for the price of filling out
the registration form, however, and its collection of activities developed by others is free
(http://www.quia.com/shared/). It produces 13 activity types, as well as quizzes and surveys. Batch
entry is possible, but the activities are complicated enough in their requirements that it is generally
necessary to reformat material for each activity. One can set up a question bank, though, to reuse
individual questions as test items or in other activities. It also offers automatic marking and activity
tracking. We know at a glance, for example, that our own students are most fond of the “Rags to
Riches” game; and we can get a readout of how much time they spend on each module. This has
obvious research as well as evaluative value.
• “Rags to Riches”: simulates the popular TV show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” All the
rhetorical impact of that show, tested and validated on TV worldwide, is hereby harnessed to
your students' language learning. You can enter your own “hints” for your students, or accept
electronically generated ones.
• “Challenge Board”: approximates “Jeopardy,” with the same advantages. One small difficulty
here is parsing our output into categories to suit the game format; but one ready technique is
to divide your terms by part of speech--“I'll take verbs for 200!” A good free alternative to Quia
for making Jeopardy-type activities, incidentally, has recently appeared: JeopardyLabs
(http://jeopardylabs.com/). It does not allow batch entry; registration is not required. It offers a
collection of already-created games, and the output is considerably more visually impressive.
• “Battleship”: the classic game. It fits a little awkwardly, though, into the educational context.
Each time the student has a hit, he must answer a multiple-choice question to make it count.
The question format, luckily, matches that for “Rags to Riches,” allowing recycling of items.
These three are the jewels of the collection, in terms of building student enthusiasm. Other Quia
options are similar to those available elsewhere:
• “Hangman”: superior to that in Spelling City, in that customized hints or your target definitions
can be included.
• “Java Games” generates three activities in one: flash cards, word search, and concentration.
It lets you remove cards from the set once you have mastered them. It also, like Flashcard
Machine, accommodates images and audio files.
• “Columns”: the familiar matching columns activity.
• “Cloze”: multiple-choice as well as gapfill clozes. Students win virtual “coins” for correct
answers. Similar to jCloze.
• “Jumbled Words” is the equivalent of Spelling City's “Unscramble.”
• “Scavenger Hunt” is a miniature WebQuest template, and could be used to guide students to
look up their own definitions for selected terms from online sources.
Other Quia activities have more specialized uses: ordering sequential lists of terms, fitting terms into
larger categories. They are not relevant for our current purposes.
Quia's “Quiz” function allows automatic grading by computer, insertion of reading texts, illustrations, or
even sound files, and a variety of question types, including short answer, multiple choice, cloze,
true/false, and essays. A good option for on-line evaluation.
For all these activities, and those that follow, it is possible to drum up extra enthusiasm by setting
them as a class competition, with leader boards and running totals of high scores.
Classtools.net (free, no registration required) provides a different sort of game: its “arcade game
generator” makes four word-practice versions of classic computer games. All can be created from one
batch-entered file. It requires an asterisk for a denominator; easily accomplished in SortMyList.
Of the games, “Word Shoot” seems the most efficient for learning, with a very satisfying audio track. It
gradually grows more challenging as the student becomes more proficient, an addicting feature tried
and validated in the gaming world.
• “CannonBall Fun” demands more skill to play, but probably compensates by being more
addictive for most over time. One must learn to carefully aim one's cannon as well as to
recognize the correct definitions.
• “Manic Miner” is a multilevel maze or “platform” game (like the original Mario series), but
requiring the player to walk towards correct answers and avoid wrong ones.
• “Matching Pairs” is another version of “concentration”/Pelmanism.
Classtools offers other options; one worth considering is the “Dustbin Game.” We can use it to ask the
students to sort the word list into parts of speech; or into relevant subject subcategories. Identifying
parts of speech, of course, will give them some idea of how to use the words in a sentence.
2.12 Content Generator
Content Generator (http://www.contentgenerator.net/) is another good source of online game
templates. It has more options than Classtools. However, most of Content Generator’s 14 (so far)
Flash game templates cost some money. Five templates, at last check, can be downloaded for free.
The site is also not terribly well-organized; you must register (free) and hunt through the online forums
for the downloads.
• “Fling the Teacher” is very loosely based on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” but amounts to
a completely new game with a unique incentive for students. If they answer 15 or more
multiple-choice questions correctly, they get the supreme satisfaction of watching a cartoon
“teacher,” customizable to look like their own, flung by a catapult across the virtual terrain.
• “Teacher Invaders” is based on the classic arcade game, “Space Invaders.” Every now and
then, the player must answer a short-answer question to be able to continue. The incentive is
artificial, and fits awkwardly into the original game; but the graphics are pleasantly humorous.
• “Half a Min” is a word scramble activity with definition, a built-in timer, and some interesting
graphics. It plays very well.
• “Multiple-choice” is a fairly straightforward multiple-choice quiz, but with a built-in timer.
• “Match-up” is a classic “match the two columns” activity, also with a timer.
Other packages, available for a fee, and worthy of consideration for vocabulary practice, include:
“Penalty Shootout”—a football (soccer) simulation; “Walk the Plank”--another creative way to get
revenge on your teacher; “Hoopshot”—a basketball simulation; “En Garde,” a fencing simulation; and
“Grade or No Grade,” reminiscent of the TV show “Let’s Make a Deal.”
The site’s “Showcase” offers many already-created games for classroom use; again, you might find
that what you need has already been created:
If, however, you feel you might be interested in purchasing additional games from Content Generator,
be forewarned that rather similar challenges are available for free at Teach ICT.com
(http://www.teach-ict.com/) (free, registration required). These are made by and for IT teachers, but
teachers of other subjects are welcomed to use them. No fewer than 24 different activity templates are
online, plus three more for printable exercises. Unfortunately, they do not allow for batch entry; each
game must be created individually.
Notable among the offerings are:
• “Save Your Team”: a very well-done football (soccer) shoot-out based on the hangman theme.
• “Racing Cubes”: an arcade-style race simulation. The game is stopped periodically and the
student must answer a fill-in-the-blank question to continue.
• “Dunkin’ Teacher”: like Content Generator’s “Walk the Plank.” Each correct answer to a series
of multiple-choice questions inches a teacher closer to the end of a plank, which eventually
drops him into a vat of—we presume—boiling oil. The game includes sound effects and taunts
by the teacher.
• “Bingo”: automates the generation of a whole-class bingo game using the target words.
• “Build It”: multiple choice questions, with the reward of gradually constructing an image.
• “Catch the Fruit”: a classic arcade game. A cartoon fox must catch falling fruit in a basket. As
with “Racing Cubes,” the vocabulary element is purely extrinsic: the game pauses every now
and then for a short-answer question.
• “Balloon Attack”: the same cartoon fox must burst balloons with a peashooter before the sun
sets—with short-answer questions to proceed to the next level. The vocabulary element fits in
better here, but is still perhaps too peripheral to the game. Perhaps too much bang, not
• “Spot the Teacher”: “Whack-a-Mole,” with teachers as moles. Multiple-choice questions
• “Maze”: “Pac Man.” When you’re about to be eaten, you can save yourself by answering a
question correctly. Rather nicely done.
• “Breakout”: Here you earn a life for each question answered correctly at the beginning.
• “Bash the Word”: Choose your weapon, choose your game colours, and hit only words related
to the given topic. This has obvious value for ESP, but is perhaps too general for our present
• “Hangman”: A Bart Simpson clone meets his Maker. Difficult, because the computer does not
keep track of guessed letters.
• “Tic-Tac-Toe”: You must answer a multiple choice question correctly to place a marker. This
proves a strong incentive—given the nature of the game, miss one move, and it’s all over.
• “Multi-Choice 1, 2, and 3”: three slightly different, straightforward multiple choice quizzes,
without bells and whistles.
• “Exam Question Practice” allows for essay questions, which can then be printed out, and
includes a “research” button that searches a term on Google. This is the only option in all we
have reviewed here that fully allows for writing practice using the target vocabulary. However,
the use of the computer for this is trivial and arbitrary.
• “True-False”: just as you might expect.
• “Drag and Drop”: a very flexible drag-and-drop interface that allows images.
• “Flash Cards”: really our old friend, “Concentration.”
• “Columns”: column match.
• “Text Twister”: challenges you to find valid English words in a given set of letters. Not suitable
for vocabulary drill.
• “Wordsearch”: aka “Word find.”
We still have not offered anything that gives the student holistic writing practice using the target words.
For this, probably the most practical tool offered by Web 2.0 is the wiki.
To fully practice our word list, therefore, we opened an account at WriteBoard
(http://www.writeboard.com/; free, requires registration) to create a simple wiki with our words.
Students can be charged with writing an essay (or even a poem) on the given word, or one using a
selection of the given words. Other students can then comment and vote, and prizes can be awarded
for the most popular entries after a set time. Other possibilities: having students add their own
definitions for each word, or upload images that represent the term.
Writeboard offers the instructor activity logs showing the actual labour exerted by each student. This
can be used for evaluation of students, but also of the activity itself. WriteBoard also lets students
publish their wiki creations in a variety of digital and hard copy formats. It is also a strong collaborative
tool, since an unlimited number of students can be active on the wiki. Collaborative story-writing is
3 THE PRODUCT
In order to make all of these exercises easily accessible, both to students and to teachers, we have
linked them all through a web page. This can be distributed locally by CD or shared drive, or uploaded
to a free web hosting service, such as Office Live (http://www.officelive.com/). Office requires
registration, but does not charge for this. There are many other sites offering free web hosting, on the
off-chance that your institution does not have its own web page. Of course, if your school has a
functioning Learning Management System, the activities can also be linked through this.
In our case, the primary planned use is in our Learning Commons, or Independent Learning Centre.
Students, when not in class, can go there and work on their vocabulary from the web page at their
own pace. The full range of options is probably much greater than any one student would need—but
together, they probably provide suitable options for almost any imaginable learning style.
We have added one additional feature: a survey, which allows students and instructors to send
feedback immediately on what features and tools they find most or least valuable, or to report bugs or
typos. There are several online services: we chose Survey Gizmo: (http://www.surveygizmo.com/). It
gives us detailed feedback on our web page whenever we want to check. Over time, we can assure
ourselves that our web page meets the real requirements of our students in an optimal way. This will
also collect our data to demonstrate the success or failure of our Web 2.0 experiment.
To round out the web page, we have taken advantage of the new Web 2.0 trend to mashable
“widgets” for a few more tools and items of interest related to vocabulary acquisition. Our own
selection, and perhaps yours, was radically limited by the eccentricities of the campus firewall.
Nevertheless, we managed to sneak through a few that seem worthy of mention:
• The “ImTranslator” Widget, available from WidgetBox (http://www.widgetbox.com/), offers
instant translation across a generous selection of languages, including our own L1 and target,
Arabic and English. Students can also have the entered word pronounced for them, by a
choice of male or female voice. There is some amusement, at least, in also having it
pronounced in accents from other languages—and probably some practical use for our
students, as we are teaching English as an international language. Students can also print or
email their term, or look it up in a dictionary.
• The “Google Dictionary Gadget” is even better for this last task, of dictionary lookup. Taken
from the collection at http://www.google.com/webmasters/gadgets/, it offers a fast choice of 14
reference works: five dictionaries, Wikipedia, Wikia, and seven different custom Google
• “Chronme,” from WidgetBox, is a small onscreen timer/stopwatch, allowing a student to time
his own activities—or, conceivably, count down the minutes until class ends.
• WidgetBox’s “TXT” widget also pronounces words or texts cut and pasted to its interface.
• With the “Vocaroo” Widget (from http://vocaroo.com/), students can record their voice, and,
depending on the capabilities of their workstation, their Webcam image as well. They can then
post it to the Web or forward it by email—perhaps to their teacher for marking. It’s almost a
little free language lab in a widget.
We have also added an assortment of general word game widgets:
• “Word Art,” by Abracadoodle, lets students, in a very literal sense, play with words, changing
size and orientation, then printing their art. From WidgetBox.
• “Quick Words,” from QuickFlashGames, like Boggle, has students try to recognize English
words in a random set of letters. From Google Gadgets.
• “Before and After,” from Google Gadgets, is like the TV show “Wheel of Fortune.” Letter by
letter, you must guess a list of related words.
• “Hangman,” from Google Gadgets, offers eight word categories, allowing some ESP use.
While it is too soon to declare it a success (or failure) based on actual use, we are hopeful that this
approach will, in the future, become a significant element in the repertoire of language teaching, and
teaching in general. Perhaps at next year's conference, we will be able to report further.
And, not incidentally, in these recessionary times, and for our Third World colleagues, this Web 2.0
mashup is available almost for free. Our own web pages cost us nothing more than the price of a one
year subscription to Quia: $49 US. We could have done it entirely for free without Quia, but could not
resist the purchase.
 Michael Knox Beran, “In Defense of Memorization,” City Journal, Summer, 2004. http://www.city-
journal.org/html/14_3_defense_memorization.html, accessed May 15, 2009.
 John Higgins, Language, Learners and Computers (Bristol, UK: Longman, 1988).
 Theon, “Progymnasmata,” trans. Patricia P. Matsen, 1987, in Matsen, Rollinson, and Sousa, eds.,
Readings from Classical Rhetoric (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1990),
p.255. He is echoing, he says, Apollonius of Rhodes.